The Leveraging Power Of An Option

The State in Independent India is still not free of its colonial vestiges.

At its kindest, it tends to treat its citizens as regressive, savage natives who can be fixed with a ‘mild’ lathi charge.

At its worst, it can throw you away to rot in prison where you can spend a lifetime screaming your innocence to no avail….

This by the way, is not about those who can afford lawyers that call up the Judge for bail or get the Supreme Court to throw open its doors at midnight.

This about your vegetable or fruit vendor, your plumber, electrician, mason or the family that lives in the Lower Income Group Flats across your homes – the imaginatively damning term that can only be stencilled on walls by innovative Babus, if there was at all such a species.

In India anybody and everybody ‘holding office’ knows best and we ourselves, unaccustomed to exercising our rights and power let them believe so.

Things are are banned or made compulsory with alarming regularity. Others are removed arbitrarily or implemented senselessly.

In this Orwellian World we are rarely told why and how. 

(Incidentally, this piece of writing is limited in sphere and does not include matters of economy, security and defence….)

Take for example the sudden ban on crackers. In a typical Orgasmic Babu World the definition of which was left vague. So, for one policeman one small sparkler would merit a mild strike of the lathi for another, unless it was a ladi of fifty.

Both however would agree a ladi of hundred deserved the lakh fine unless an ‘arrangement’ could be reached and who knows a tot of potent ‘mithai’ to sort it out better.

Everyone except the government and its servants knew this ban was doomed to begin with and the only people who would suffer would be the poor, the powerless and the acquiesced….the ones who cannot run away to Goa or the hills, spend the evening playing Teen Patti and then come out at midnight to light up that Mother Of All Ladis – ten thousand, in your effing face!

Ban or no ban.

If the pushback of the educated middle class which usually stays out of it all – because it has enough to lose but not enough to buy its way out – is any indication, then, we can conclude that they are fatigued with sanctimonious advertisements on TV, Bollywood’s dumb hypocrisy, agencies in charge of the environment headed by people not fit to serve as office boys, ministers preaching charity while all around us the numerous factors remain unresolved – crop stubble for one, which continues to burn turning our skies into a nuclear winter on a warm day.

If the government and its servants don’t get the message now, then it might be too late for them to understand what hit them.

So, here is a suggestion by an invested citizen of what should have been done and how. Because yes, pollution is a big problem that is literally choking us to death.

Instead of lecturing the general populace on the significance of our festivals and the interpretations of our scriptures, clearly not a subject they excel in, the state machinery could instead do its job.

As a young girl I worked during a summer vacation as a temp in a nursery school. That was an age when I wasn’t particularly fond of small children and would have happily worked in a dog pound instead as I had done the year before.

But the one lesson I learnt from both the nursery, the dog pound and later at work with a disparate team of skilled, unskilled workers and qualified designers – The Power of Offering an Option.

~Neha stop scribbling on the wall. Here’s chart paper. Make for me a big, big drawing ! ~

~Akshay, stop kicking the chair. Let’s go play football~

~No Bozo! Don’t chew that table leg. Come we’ll go for a walk! ~

As you might know in the share market too, options have a great leveraging power as also in the real world.

If you disallow a poor farmer from burning his field what is the option you offer him instead?

Easy. An option he can’t refuse.

In the short term, government agencies of Delhi, UP, Punjab, Haryana must offer threshers, harvesters at nominal charge or gratis so that not one farmer sets fire to his field. In turn, agencies which fail to do so must face repercussions.

In the long term farmers must be offered advice of agriculturist and scientists as to which crops and schedules of planting works best economically and environmentally. These steps and decisions could save billions on healthcare later…

In a 10 km radius of an NCR locality there are hundreds of construction sites. Imagine if only water sprinkling after a day’s work was made mandatory. A nominal charge for a water tanker service plus a rainwater harvesting tank on site that takes care of at least three months of the year could go a long way to incentivise builders, contractors, owners.

Same with night sprinkling of water on trees and foliage in congested zones.

Leaf burning also adds to pollution levels and is penalised. However, there are few or no options available for disposing the mountain high piles in parks or dumped on pavements, creating another kind of pollution.

Why not offer incentive to people with land holdings or empty colony plots to create compost pits so that every area has enough manure to service small gardens, balconies etc ?

There is some work on in this direction but certainly not enough because its lackadaisical and haphazard.

Now taking the Power Of Offering An Option to the recent ban on crackers.

Imagine if your city had announced that this year for Diwali they wanted you and your family to come onto your threshold, balcony, terrace or garden if you were so fortunate, to enjoy a fireworks display – soundless and green whatever that means between 8-9 pm in celebration of Diwali.

There would have been no mention of an insulting ban, no smug reproach but only a very novel, enticing offer. 

Yes, my children would have burst their sparklers, anaar, chakris after our Puja and yes with our diyas lit, our mithai exchanged wouldn’t we have for that one hour put everything on hold and come out to enjoy our very important festival ? Calling out to friends and neighbours from across doorways, balconies and terraces to enjoy the spectacle.

This community highlight would slowly grow to be that display which year after year with our enthusiasm would only go better and bigger.

In this way the State would not have come across as insensitive or ham-handed and more important would not have snatched my right to celebrate, criminalised an integral part of my tradition but offered me instead a choice, respecting my beliefs – treating me as a mature citizen aware of the perils of pollutions and its deathly effect on my near and dear ones.

In my opinion this is the way to draw people in. To get them to participate. To create a community of oneness with beauty and fun. To be bound together by Diwali as we have been through a millennium of liens.

~More harm was done in the 20th century by faceless bureaucrats than tyrant dictators~ Dennis Prager


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